Tag Archives: Information ethics

Who is responsible for the quality of the information we catalogue?

If you’ve been following the RadCat listserv recently, you’ve been reading a lot about 9/11, conspiracy theories and whether or not we should be questioning the legitimacy of the material we catalogue.

Some cataloguers, simply put, say no. The quality of information and the items themselves that we catalogue are provided to us through collection development (aka. Acquisitions). It is their job to decide what the library will or will not collect. It is up to the cataloguer to provide access to it.

Other cataloguers believe we should question what we catalogue to a certain degree. To what degree should that be? Should we bring the item to the attention of our collection development department? Should we add a note in the record? What type of subject headings are we going to assign to it?

This idea of how far we should go in mindlessly cataloguing items without regard to quality sits on the edge, I believe, of information ethics. As professionals, how far does our professional obligation extend beyond just providing access? Should we be providing false material to the public while representing it as legitimate? What if we notice one collection or point of view becoming a bit too heavy or one-sided?

While we must catalogue objectively, I believe it is part of our professional responsibility to question what we catalogue. Of course we shouldn’t make a nuisance of ourselves and question every religious book that opposes our personal view or book about sex that we don’t agree with. We can, however, question the balance of our collection and speak with our colleagues about that balance.We want a diverse and varied collection that represents all points of views and opinions. In many libraries, the selectors of materials in the library system are not centralized. Meaning, although the purchasing of the materials goes through a central location, the choosing of those materials don’t. As a result, we are the only department that sees the collection as a whole because it must pass our way before making it out to the public.

Cataloguers are the last “check-stop” before an item reaches the public. Rather than working in our individual silos, we need to start collaborating between departments. Our colleagues question our cataloguing decisions daily. And, many times, their questions lead to better access or a clearer definition of why we do what we do. Do we not have a right to question their decisions as well? Will our questioning the collection not enhance what we collect and provide access to?


Filed under Access Issues, The Cataloguer

Information Ethics : Our Standards, Responsibilities and Duties as Librarians

As many of you are aware from reading this blog, my husband is a lawyer. One of the areas he is most interested in is professional ethics, discipline and self-governance. While his interests are mainly focussed on professional ethics surrounding the legal profession, much of what we discuss together involves all professionals, our responsibilities, and how we conduct ourselves. Like lawyers, we serve the public and, as a result, are public figures. We hold a position of trust in the public eye.

Having developed an interest in professional ethics through our discussions, I have been reading articles on our own profession, and our responsibilities. The following excerpt is from an article I recently came across called Information Ethics: The Duty, Privilege and Challenge of Educating Information Professionals – University of Pennsylvania.

In our increasingly complex, multicultural, and information-intensive society, many critical issues related to information access and use are misunderstood, inadequately considered, or even ignored. These issues may involve balancing individual and societal needs (such as in protecting both an individual’s privacy and the public’s right to know); resolving conflicting views about library collection policies between librarians and parents of schoolchildren; resolving disagreements between individual archivists and retention policies concerning electronic records; understanding one’s own view of what is ethical; or many other topics. In a growing number of instances, decisions concerning information access and use are placing information professionals in sensitive, and sometimes vulnerable, positions.

Knowing how to create, find, manage, access, preserve, and use information effectively provides a form of power to the information professional, whether it is through speed of access to needed sources, the ability to hack into a system, or complex skills to find and create new multimedia information resources. Information professionals, as well as those who rely on them to provide a wide array of services to help people work more efficiently, compete with others, or improve the quality of their lives, must recognize and understand that with power comes responsibility. Like those who acquired power from their knowledge of how to split the atom, librarians, archivists, and other information professionals must learn to understand the possible and real consequences of their actions, reflect on the alternative choices they may make, and determine how best to use their power and act responsibly.

Individuals seeking to become professional librarians or archivists, or seeking to work in other types of cultural heritage institutions or information-related organizations must first learn to develop and hone their own individual sense of ethics, live an ethical life, and be educated about ethical issues in their professional life. In addition, the information professional must learn how–and be ready–to make ethical decisions and take ethical actions (Hammond, Keeney, & Raiffa, 1998).

What I find most intriguing about this article is the emphasis on the creation, retrieval, management and access to information. I have specifically chosen this excerpt because of the current movement among cataloguers to push for a larger cataloguing curriculum in library education. Cataloguing is more than just a skill set. What we do requires a high degree of professionalism. We make decisions regarding political correctness versus access, censorship, labeling, personal opinions, and much more. Information ethics is heavily imbedded in cataloguing. Before the information is ever accessible or organized for the public, it passes through our hands. As a result, our profession carries with it a large amount of responsibility.

While I am hopeful that increasing awareness in our professional responsibilities, as well as our skills and knowledge, will assist in developing a higher level of education among current library students, I am also bringing attention to ethical standards because I believe this area of librarianship has been neglected. I also believe that in an increasingly information-centered world, our ability to outline exactly what our code of ethics is and how we govern ourselves will become even more important.

As a result, I hope to explore this topic further in future posts and look forward to any feedback from you in this regard.

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Filed under Our Profession, Professional Ethics, The Cataloguer